Cultural Competence and the Global Role of Dietitians: A Haitian Medical Mission and Inter-Professional, Service-Learning Nutrition Course

Joanne Christaldi*, 1, Jessica R. Bodzio2
1 West Chester University of Pennsylvania, 309 Sturzebecker Health Science Center, West Chester, PA 19383, USA
2 Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Marywood University, 2300 Adams Avenue, Scranton, PA 18509, USA

© 2015 Christaldi and Bodzio

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the West Chester University of Pennsylvania, 309 Sturzebecker Health Science Center, West Chester, PA 19383; Tel: 610-436-1038; Fax: 610-436-2860;


As the poorest Western Hemisphere country, Haiti has a long history of health disparity including elevated rates of hypertension, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. In the summer of 2012, a four-week knowledge and skills based course, including a one-week medical mission, was developed to meet the need for medical care in Haiti, and to provide an interprofessional, service-learning environment to enhance students’ cultural competence. A nonprofit volunteer organization that connects healthcare people with a community in need assisted in developing the mission trip. Background on the culture of Haiti, medical education, and development of nutrition education materials were incorporated into the course. Students participated in classroom activities, assisted with development of nutrition education materials, and maintained a reflective journal during the mission trip. Basic nutrition education, nutrition assessment and evaluation, and breastfeeding instruction were provided to Haitian patients. Additionally, students and faculty interacted with each member of the healthcare team; facilitating a greater understanding of an interprofessional approach to medical care. Incorporating a medical mission trip into dietetics education provides an opportunity to increase cultural competence of faculty and students while providing another outlet for students to gain hands-on experience. Interprofessional service-learning further enhances the educational experience and should be considered as a worthwhile educational technique. Programs looking to incorporate such a mission trip into their curriculum can follow a similar scheme of course development.

Keywords: Dietetic students, service learning, cultural competence, Haiti.